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Last updated: Thu. May. 15, 2014 - 02:42 pm EDT

Day cares to bark home about

Growing industry pampers dogs while owners work, travel

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FORT WAYNE — From his comfortable cubicle with a glass door, Beau the dog was obviously happy to get visitors. The dark red Plott hound playfully waved his long, thin tail. His droopy ears suddenly perked to attention. And he woofed with excitement as he put both front paws on the window, just to make sure he was seen.

“You do see me, don't you?” Beau practically says through his dark, soulful eyes.

Yes, he was seen and heard.

But why was Beau by himself, separated from his 30 or so bouncing, barking companions at Happy Dogs Daycare? Why the solitary confinement? Time for a noon snack he wouldn't have to share? Or maybe it was nap time.

“Beau was getting a time out,” manager Carolyn Stowers says.

It seems as though Beau had not been playing well with the others. It's not as though he was yipping or nipping at the several animals that occupied the back room, which was spacious enough for all the dogs to roam. But he was playing rough. And like a teacher with a classroom full of toddlers, Stowers wasn't about to tolerate bullying.

“What he does is he pounces on other dogs' backs, and we don't want anybody to get hurt. And he only does it when he gets very excited. So we'll take him out,” Stowers says.

“He went in (time out) about five, 10 minutes ago. He knows he got in trouble, so when he goes back in, he'll play like he's supposed to.”

Beau is one of the regulars at Happy Dogs Daycare, 3624 Illinois Road. He is dropped off in the morning and picked up in the evening. And except for getting a bit rambunctious when he plays, he's got the routine down pretty well. Plus, he has his playmates.

“They have their own little cliques and groups,” Stowers says. “I have an English mastiff. She plays with specifically two or three dogs that she really likes. … But they run in little packs. They all get along, but they all have other dogs that they click with better than others.”

It's a growing industry, these doggy day cares and boarding facilities. There are close to two dozen in the area.

Families want a pet. Both adults have jobs. Kids are in school. What to do with Rover?

And the same applies when the family goes away on vacation. Instead of buying Spot or Fluffy a plane ticket for the annual summer visit with Aunt Dorothy in Kissimmee, Florida, why not leave them behind at a facility where they'll be fed and watered and played with? Better for you, and better for them.

“Day care is just exploding in Fort Wayne,” says Gretchen Meienburg, owner of Pampered Pets Bed & Biscuit, 2013 W. Cook Road. “I don't know if I can (attribute) it to people working longer hours or just getting younger dogs or older dogs that need a lot of attention, but we're busting at the seams. We run about 70 dogs a day, just for the day, to go to day care. It's just like dropping your kids off at day care for the day.”

Meienburg, who also owns a similar facility in Napoleon, Ohio, has 99 areas for individual dogs at the Cook Road facility. Forty-four are the standard rooms, which include a sleeping area and a doggy door that leads into a patio. The other 55 are suites, which include TV sets. Most of the TVs are tuned to Animal Planet.

Boarding prices vary, depending on the facility. A full day at Pampered Pets Bed & Biscuit is $20. At Happy Dogs Daycare, it's $18. And care can range from half days to overnight and weekend stays to additional playtime and attention. Meienburg says some suites also come with a webcam.

“We've had clients who have brought suitcases with different outfits for the dogs,” Meienburg says. “I think it was a little Chihuahua, and they got one of our rooms with the webcam so they could make sure that we had the right T-shirt on the dog every day. We did it.

“We have clients that will bring us extra money in an envelope and say ‘Can you go to McDonald's and get a hamburger for him every day?' So we'll give them a hamburger and sit with them and break it into little pieces and let them eat it.”

But it's not the McDonald's that Meienburg remembers most in her nearly 30 years in the pet care business.

“The craziest food thing was I think about 10 years ago. A lady brought apples, and I had to cut them into 10 slices, and she brought ranch dressing, and I had to feed it to the dog. That was a little odd, but we had to do it at 1 o'clock while we were watching ‘Days of Our Lives.' And I had to eat the first piece first.”

Says Joanna Keefe of Joanna's Animal Grooming Salon, 9179 Lima Road: “We had a dog that only ate bananas. That was the only thing the owner would let us feed it. And then I had a dog that only ate carrots.”

Nicole Shuler, who has worked a year and a half at Indian Creek Veterinary Hospital, 5902 Homestead Road, remembers having to take special care of a poodle that was left overnight.

“The owner had us dress up her dog during the day in different outfits,” Shuler says. “And then at night, we had to put her in pajamas.”

Meanwhile, back at Happy Dogs Daycare, Beau is only a few minutes from joining the rest of the population. His time out is taking effect.

Like others, Stowers tries to accommodate the owners' wishes.

“We have had people tell us that if the dog barks a certain number of times, they want to go outside,” she says. “Even people who board with us, I've had people come with like two pages of instructions. The dogs have to eat a special diet, which is totally fine, and they have to have this amount of wet food and they put their dry food in, and they have to sprinkle this on top of it.

“I give out my cellphone number to a lot of my clients, and I have people who text me every hour, wanting pictures and things like that. So every time I come in, I take pictures of them and send them to their parents.”

And who says the dog days of summer are bad?

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